Building the Future

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
~ Albert Einstein

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. I was up early to head to Manchester for a meeting with the Vermont Production Council, a nascent group partnering with ITVFest, seeking ways to encourage film and television production here in the Green Mountain State. As someone who has attended the last four ITVFests, Philip Gilpin, Jr. invited me to participate.

Having been to and from Manchester a few times already, I trusted my GPS to get me there in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, in the shadow of Stratton Mountain it told me to turn left when I needed to go right. The large, official orange sign across the road should have served as a warning: “Turn around. Your GPS is wrong. Not a through road.” Since I turned left rather than going straight, I paid little heed to the admonition (beyond my own wry amusement). However, once the GPS had me turn right onto a dirt road, then left onto a narrower dirt road, and I found myself in a ski condo community, without an apparent through road, I became concerned. None of this was familiar. I made my way back to the main road, re-mapped my route to Manchester and backtracked to the way I should have gone initially, finding myself back in familiar scenery.

I arrived about ten minutes late, in the midst of introductions. The meeting was held in the beautiful timberframe offices of Stratton Magazine (now Manchester Life). The building overlooks the Mill Pond spillway of the Batten Kill (“kill” means creek in Dutch), wending its way to the Battenkill River. My friends Sonja O’Hara (writer, director, actor producer for “Doomsday,” winner of the Best of ITVFest in 2016) and Jake Krueger, owner and operator of the Jacob Krueger Studio in New York City, were among special guests Philip invited to today’s meeting. While the discussion focused on ITVFest in October, it included brainstorming on how to attract production in Vermont, especially for micro-budget independent creators. I was fascinated to hear steps to ultimately involve the state government in the process. The expertise around the table struck me as important facets that will serve as catalyst for ITVFest and production in Vermont, ensuring both will continue to improve going forward.

Following the meeting, some of us went to the Wilburton Inn, “a majestic hilltop estate, historic inn and vacation homes for families, romantics, artists, foodies and leaders who transform the world,” (to quote the brochure). It’s certainly all that and more. Melissa and Tajlei (sounds like “Tie-lee”) welcomed us to the mansion inn purchased thirty years before by their father. We enjoyed an impromptu brunch on the terrace, surrounded by breathtaking Green Mountain splendor. This is indeed a special place. The conversation revolved on how working together in the future could benefit ITVFest, Jacob Krueger Writing Retreats, and the Inn. As a filming location, the appeal of the Wilburton setting is undeniable. I spent much of my time taking pictures, even shooting a couple of time lapse videos. I remained behind after everyone else left, feeling very much at home in this gracious place.

It was midafternoon when I returned to Manchester. I took advantage of the WiFi in the ITVFest offices, posting a few pictures on social media, when I realized I was famished. I walked up the street to Cilantro for a late lunch. This is a place known for its fresh farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients, as well as its thrifty prices. I ordered a two taco meal, with rice and beans, and can confirm it was fresh, delicious and filling. I washed it down with the tart and tasty house limeade. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll likely visit the Bennington branch later this week.

By the time I finished lunch, it was raining lightly. I window-shopped on my way back to the car, haphazardly ducking raindrops. Not knowing what the rain would mean for the afternoon farm concert Tajlei and Melissa had invited me to earlier, and feeling rather sticky and -- well -- a little gross, I elected to return home by way of my secret swimming hole. It was the therapy I needed. I had the place to myself, swimming for about half an hour (the water colder today than my previous visits). I also experimented with time exposure shots of the falls.

After this blissful Vermontime, I headed back to the apartment, refreshed, but exhausted and hungry. I made myself dinner, settling in to edit photos and watch “Game of Thrones”.

I felt very much at home.

Stories to Tell

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

If a story is in you,
it has got to come out.
~ William Faulkner

Writing is not easy, most of the time. Nor is it particularly fun, at least not in a traditional sense. In all honesty, writing can be a masochistic exercise. So why do it? Because in my experience there is a satisfaction derived in crafting story, unlike any other feeling I know.

I love language and the musicality of words. I am a musician, classically trained in piano and voice, and to my ear, a story well told is as solidly structured and harmonically pleasing as a Bach chorale.

But it ain’t easy.

With these posts for Vermontime, I share my day to day living in Vermont. There wasn’t much adventuring this Saturday because I didn’t finish writing until after six o’clock in the evening. (That’s another thing about writing -- time disappears.) But I am writing in Vermont, and that -- well, that’s special, and something worth talking about.

When I write at my desk in downtown Newark, New Jersey, I put on headphones, playing music to shut out the atonal urban symphony of sirens, trains, traffic, and voices on the street. Here? My windows are open, and the melody of the Deerfield River fills the apartment. I still play music, but it’s part of the fuller environment, not a guard against it.

I spent most of Saturday struggling with language and memory, wrestling to alchemically transform my experience in Weston into an assembly of words that would make sense to my reader. When writing, I sit at my laptop and write, read, delete, rewrite, reread, add, delete, rewrite, reread, and on and on until my gut tells me I’m done.

Once I finished, I ran out to the market for groceries, claiming my free cup of coffee at 7-11 along the way. I decided to take a scenic route, and I’ve been told since I got here that Cooper Hill is the best place to capture a sunrise. I had yet to see it and thought it was time for a scouting trip, in hopes of seeing dawn at least once before my Vermontime is up.

Cooper Hill is unmistakeable, a broad meadow sloping down gently to the forest edge. Above the tops of distant trees is a sweeping vista looking east, including New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. It was a rather sullen evening: overcast, warm and muggy, with hordes of black flies everywhere. (In the dozen-plus photos I took, buzzy, blurry black flecks are in all but one, like irritating UFOs.) A group of Green Mountain Adventure Challengers were climbing the hill, laughing, chatting and posing for photographs against the view while I snapped my shots.

I might have stayed longer, but the persistent insects chased me to my car. Traveling roads I had not yet seen, I arrived at the market a back way. Picking up what I needed (and then some) I returned home for a quiet evening in. After all, I had to be up early the next day for the Vermont Production Council meeting in Manchester.

But that’s another story. Another day.

It will come out. I promise. It’s got to.

Deja Vu

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

memories sneak out
of my eyes
and roll down
my cheeks
~ unknown

I stopped by Betsey’s Dot’s of Dover for lunch. Yes, again. What can I say? I like the food, the service and the friendly staff. I thanked Tommy, the short order cook, for encouraging me to visit the Glory Hole spillway at the Harriman Reservoir Dam over a week ago. I ordered another favorite, California Benedict, and scanned the local weekly paper, taking note of the bears story on the front page (note: not a sports team).

I was on my to Weston to visit the original Vermont Country Store. I’ve been on their email list for about twenty years and never checked it out during previous Vermont visits. It took me about an hour and was a beautiful drive (though honestly, I can’t think of a single bad drive around here). I might have made it sooner, but it was Friday, and the roads held a greater share of RVs, motorcycles, and out-of-state plates. The weekenders were arriving, the going was slow, and I didn’t mind. Much.

Vrest and Ellen Orton opened The Vermont Country Store in Weston in 1946. Today their store is still owned and operated by the Orton family, in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations of storekeepers. They continue to “take pride in being Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-To-Find.” Body On Tap shampoo? They have it. Charles Chips? They have that, too.

I believe I mentioned previously that I grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. The Green mountains of southern Vermont are similar, and I’ve experienced some deja vu and nostalgia throughout my exploring these last couple of weeks. But I was completely unprepared for the wave of emotion that hit me when shopping at the Vermont Country Store.

The store is really a compound, made up of several buildings (including an outhouse[!]). Once parked, I walked around getting the lay of the land, so to speak. When I crossed the threshold of the street-facing front door, I was inundated with multiple memories simultaneously: a small country store of my young childhood in Raleigh, Storie’s Sweet Shop at the corner of Main and Sunset in my mountain hometown, and the Mast General Store, North Carolina’s version of an authentic, historic country store, complete with ESSO sign out front. The heady smell of waxed or oiled wood mixed with the sweet aroma of candy jars and fudge, plus coffee, created a slippery slope down to memory lane.

What emotionally triggered me, though, was the selection of classic toys within the store. I discovered it by following the noise of burp guns and musical instruments, the excited laughter and squeals of delight from children along with the occasional admonition from parents or grandparents. It was when I saw the clacking Jacobs Ladder, I experienced my flashback: A trip to Asheville with my parents and siblings, years before we knew we would one day live in the mountains northeast of there. I think I was seven years old. My brother, my two sisters, and I, were each permitted to select one traditional handcrafted mountain toy. (I chose a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle. I still have it somewhere.) Afterward, we posed for a photo, all four of us sitting in a row, demonstrating our toys for posterity. I have no idea what my brother’s toy was called, but in that picture, all eyes are on him and his toy.

Memory is so strange. I remember very little about that vacation, considering my age then, yet what I do recall overwhelmed me in an instant. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I wandered around blindly for a few minutes, picking at the memory (recalling rubber superhero action figures we also got on that trip, or the moment Dad turned the station wagon around on a narrow dirt road at dusk and I could swear from where I sat in the way-back we were hanging over the edge of road, terrified we were moments away from dropping to the valley below).

Once I felt more myself I stepped outside for some air. I discovered a flower garden by the entrance drive and was delighted to get a closer look at a particular flower I only noticed the day before, on the road to the swimming hole. From a distance, it reminds me of a pink cloud or foam (or cotton candy). I took a few flower photos, before venturing across the street to the Weston Village Store (“Weston’s “Original Country Store since 1891”).

In addition to all the usual Vermont paraphernalia (hats, t-shirts, fudge, windchimes, maple products), the second level intrigued me the most. It was originally the town’s dance hall! Next door to the Weston Village Store was a charming post office with a chihuahua waiting patiently in a pick-up parked at its front door. By now it was late afternoon and I was ready to return home by way of the secret swimming hole.

There were already six cars parked along the side of the road when I got there. I made my way down anyway, looking forward to cooling off in the refreshing water. Others were there, including one young man making impressive back-flips off the rock beside the falls, and the mood was congenial. I swam for almost half an hour when three families with at least six kids between them under the age of ten made their entrance. I knew it was time to go and I returned to the road. I noted the latest arrivals were from out of state.

I returned to West Dover, joining Philip and his family for dinner in his mother’s garden. Everything about this impromptu gathering was sublime, from the company to the food to the conversation. I truly felt like one of the family, and I could not have been made more welcome, nor felt more grateful.

I know dinner probably seemed more poignant thanks to my memory pas de deux that afternoon, but I also realize it made creating this new memory even sweeter. A Vermontime dessert, if you will.

Hand-Drawn Map

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

Und wenn dich das Irdische vergaß,
zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne.
Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke “Sonnets to Orpheus” XXIX (excerpt)
translation by Stephen Mitchell

pikes falls swimming hole jamaica vt

Another long workday followed the Mount Olga sunset hike. I’m still surprised how long it takes to choose my photos, edit each one, then upload them to social media. (There was no nap like yesterday, either.) I finished earlier than the day before, but it was still late afternoon. I had no idea what to do.

It was hot and cloudy, hazy and humid with a chance of rain forecast. The apartment was warm and though I’m usually a homebody, I had a rare case of cabin fever. I made a cup of coffee and pored over my options, a stack of local tours created by the proprietor of the West Dover Inn, given to me my first day here. My intuition said waterfall, and I considered hiking to Hamilton Falls in Jamaica, but the driving time combined with the length of the hike dissuaded me. That’s when the hand-drawn map with directions to a secret swimming hole caught my eye.



I double-checked the mileage written on the map with Google, packed my swimming trunks and a towel, then headed for the hills. For most of the drive, I had no cell service. Even the Sirius satellite radio was intermittent. But it was worth it.

Even if you know where you’re going and what to look for, it’s easy to miss. I passed by the entrance and had to go half a mile up the road to turn around. The path off the road is invisible unless you’re looking at it head on, but it’s a well-worn track to the pool at the bottom of the falls. I hoped to be alone, but three others were already there. (If I’m being honest, their car on the side of the road helped me find the trail.) I took photos and video, chatting with Pasquale who was introducing this secret spot to his friends, a couple visiting from western New York. He told me this is definitely a local haunt; he only learned about it shopping at D&K’s Jamaica Grocery. He encouraged me to walk up a slippery path beside the falls to a spot where the river breaks into three falls flowing into a whirlpool before churning through a natural sluice that becomes the larger falls emptying into the pool below.

I made the climb and can confirm it’s more slippery than I expected. I shot more photos and video before disappearing behind a tree to change into my swimsuit. By the time I returned to the pool below, Pasquale and his friends were gone. I had the swimming hole to myself.


I waded across the stony shallows, into the clear, bracing water before taking the plunge. It felt amazing! The shock of cold wore off quickly and I began paddling about lazily. The water is so clear it’s difficult to judge depth. I swam around, listening to the roar of the falls and various calling birds.

When I tired of swimming, I sat in a small pool, the river flowing around me in a constant gentle massage. The sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the treetops and filling the swimming hole with a glorious green-gold glow. This was meditation at its finest, a communion with nature I didn’t know my soul was thirsting for. A gift.

I remained there, in the water, for over an hour. Once the light shifted and the glow faded, I made ready to leave, giving silent thanks for the benediction I received here. I also promised myself I’d return before my Vermontime assignment concludes at the end of the month.

Ich rinne. I’m flowing. Ich bin. I am.